FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has been saying for months the television spectrum auction will begin on time and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly predicts it will too. Absent an “official and substantial request from a significant party” that without a delay could jeopardize the auction, he believes it will begin on March 29. It’s still possible a court decision could “waylay the timing,” but even that “seems like a heavy lift at this point,” he tells attendees at NAB’s State Leadership Conference.
He has concerns though, like whether the spectrum reserve will benefit companies that really don’t need government assistance. “By what measure does it seem fair to allow well- established and well-financed companies, such as Comcast, to be reserve participants?,” he asked rhetorically, adding that every dollar that is spent on the reserve rather than on the auction, will depress the ultimate value of broadcast stations for both those that do take part and the ones that don’t participate in the auction, he says.
O’Rielly believes better data is needed before we know whether 39 months is enough time and $1.75 billion is enough money to reimburse television owners post-auction during the repack. “For instance, I have requested information on the number of available tower crews to perform the repack. Such information, which I have been unable to obtain, along with the exact number of stations to be moved, will be necessary to determine an accurate timeline,” according to O’Rielly.
The GOP commissioner committed to be open-minded and proactive on these issues “including expressing support to Congress for additional funding, if absolutely necessary.”